Monday, April 12, 2010

Flash is dead, all hail HTML5?

I have never been a fan of Flash. While you can do pretty neat games or cool animations with it, most of the times it seems to be used to create some annoying blinking and flashing ad content. I don't like most of the full Flash sites either because they usually feel graphically bloated or unusable. Majority of full Flash sites are just simply poorly designed. Where credit is due however is YouTube and any other services providing video content.

Then again, HTML5 includes native support for video. Essentially this means that Flash is no longer needed for video. Out of the big players, YouTube was probably the first one to have an experimental HTML5 video support and very soon after Vimeo announced a beta HTML5 video player. In my eyes this indicates a clear willingness to go for more open web with no proprietary add-ons.

There is also a new Canvas element in HTML5 that allows dynamic 2D rendering via JavaScript. For some very good examples of this you can take a look at Canvas Demos or Chrome Experiments.

On top of that, WebGL will enable OpenGL ES 2.0 rendering through the very same Canvas element. Effectively this will mean hardware accelerated 3D graphics on your web page. So, there will be no need for Flash to do any animations. To see what WebGL is capable of doing I suggest you take a look at the WebGL demo running inside Firefox on the Nokia N900. There is even a JavaScript 3D engine using WebGL out there already called CopperLicht.

All the things mentioned above are enablers that allow open standards to close the gap between them and the add-on technologies. On the other hand, getting rid of Flash won't happen overnight. There are several reasons that are still holding back this transformation:
  • Internet Explorer doesn't support all HTML5 features and is likely to adopt these slower than other browsers.
  • The browser market will remain highly fragmented and there will be older versions of browsers around for a long time.
  • HTML5 is still a standard in progress and will take some time to get finished. It really might take several years to get it finished and deployed everywhere. At the same time proprietary technologies evolve all the time and are available now, not tomorrow.
  • The performance of JavaScript and Canvas doesn't match the performance of Flash and other native proprietary plug-ins.
  • Mozilla is sticking to their ideals and decided to not include the H.264 support into Firefox because of patent encumbrance issues. Unfortunately H.264 is widely adopted and for example the YouTube HTML5 support is using it.
Despite all these facts, recent news have shown that there is more intent to get rid of Flash. First of all, Apple changed the terms of the iPhone Developer Agreement so that it forbids any usage of third party tools for application development. This essentially is a death strike to Flash on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Not very surprisingly, this really pissed some people off.

Secondly, soon after this Adobe presented a demo showing Flash CS5 exporting Flash content to a HTML5 Canvas. This is a very good move from Adobe and strengthens them where they have already been strong - the authoring tools. I was already hoping, among a lot of other people, for something like this to happen and now it is here!

The great thing about this is that it brings the authoring tools to the HTML5 family. I'm pretty sure some Flash puritans will argue that the exporting won't work properly, the performance will be poor and that the exported content won't be manageable. I'm going to disagree saying that I don't see why Adobe couldn't write all the required functionality in JavaScript. Furthermore, WebGL is going to bring the GPU acceleration for boosting performance.

As you could probably guess, I'm not expecting Flash to just disappear from the web anytime soon but at least here's to hoping now...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Travelling with N96 - pleasure or pain?

"Is it possible to use a phone as a hardcore travel assistant which does basically everything for you?" This was the question before I went for a short holiday. Before the holiday started I created a quite long list what I could do with my phone when abroad (thanks to Petteri and Jouni for additional suggestions).

When I was driving in Spain and using Ovi Maps as a navigator, I totally lost my mind because N96 rebooted itself numerous times and Ovi Maps failed to give me good directions. I even buzzed about this. After the buzz, I started thinking that I shouldn't make that strong assumption, which is based on few failures. I decided to create a list of pleasures and pains about using N96 (or any device) as a travel assistant. I made this list during my holiday, without any further planning, so the list is authentic and not made up.

Like everybody knows, these things aren't black and white so it is little difficult to make a final decision. I thought that I'll give one point (+1) for each pleasure and one minus point (-1) for each pain and then sum them. If pleasure wins, then it is a pleasure to travel with N96 or if pain wins, then it is a pain travelling with N96. I'll also add some suggestions in the end which could help travelers (or frequent mobile phone users) in the future.

Test equipment
  • Nokia N96 v.30.333
  • Ovi Maps v3.01 09wk44 b01 with drive and walk license and downloaded map of Spain.
  • A car
  • A 31-year-old male
  • Downloaded maps to your phone before travel.
  • Got drive and walk guidance relatively cheaply, only 9,99€ to N96. Although this hasn't been advertised anywhere. I noticed this from
  • Saved GPS coordinates to some pictures which I took.
  • Sent an unique postcard with a picture taken with N96 using 3rd party software from Finnish Post Office.
  • Transferred podcasts and music before the trip to the phone.
  • Installed 3rd party software during the trip to get information about Alhambra. Download was done using bluetooth in Alhambra. More information about the software.

Picture 1 & 2. Information of Alhambra in your phone
  • Used Opera Mini to cut down the amount transferred data while browsing abroad.
  • Recorded my running routes using SportsTracker and didn't use any data connection. Uploaded them to SportsTracker site when I came back from holiday.

Picture 3. One recorded running route, used only GPS, no data connection.

Picture 4. Uploaded route in SportsTracker.
  • Saved the place to Ovi Maps where I parked the car in Malaga.
  • Ovi Maps walking guide worked in Malaga and I found the place where I parked the car.
  • Saved my thoughts about this blog post to Notes on holiday.
  • Sometimes Ovi Maps didn't find anything, re-booting helped.
  • Ovi Maps drive guidance was guiding in Malaga differently than it was showing in the map. Guidance told "turn left" but map showed "turn right". This happened more than once.
  • GPS signal lost three times during trip from Alhambra to Benalmadena. Phone was all the time in the same place. Restarting of Ovi Maps helped.
  • While driving to back from Alhambra to Benalmadena, N96 restarted numerous times, something like 5-7. Luckily my wife was able to operate N96, otherwise it would have been really difficult and dangerous.
  • Ovi Maps didn't find "Calle de Noruega" street in Benalmadena. It seems that Ovi Maps thinks it is "Calle Cinoroega" like seen in picture 5. Also "Calle Italia" should be "Calle de Noruega".
  • Ovi Maps gave totally wrong driving guidance near where I was staying.
Picture 5. Map from Benalmadena where driving guidance in Ovi Maps didn't work so well.
  • I noticed after the trip that some of the pictures didn't contain GPS coordinates, although I'm really sure I had that feature on.
  • There weren't any good place for placing N96 in the car. This makes navigation more difficult.
  • While I was driving, Ovi Maps showed useless information about roaming charges although I had accepted it previously.
Picture 6. Ovi Maps showing useless information while driving.
  • While I was driving, Nokia Messaging popped up numerous times. I don't know what initiated this.
Picture 7. Nokia Messaging popped up while using Ovi Maps.
  • Ovi Maps didn't seem to be accurate enough, if there were two (or more) ramps which were taking you off the highway, it wasn't clear which one to take. I've been using TomTom XL in Finland, and it guides you really clearly which ramp or lane to take.

  • It would be really helpful if Nokia (or someone else) would be selling "one-size-fits-all-Nokias" car kits where one could place phone while driving. This could be also used for watching videos in the plane.
  • There are still space to improve Ovi Maps' user experience.
  • I think navigation using phone is little like comparing taking pictures with phone and taking pictures with "real" camera; it is in a way OK, but not really good.
  • Search results in Ovi Maps aren't as good as in Google Maps. Biggest two problems with Google Maps is that you cannot download the maps to your phone and you can't get drive guidance to Nokia phones.
  • As you can see, most of the issues were caused by Ovi Maps. I wasn't using the newest version, so I really hope it works better.
  • I didn't use Foursquare or Gowalla during my holiday because I was lazy. I checked few times if something could be found from Foursquare, and it was basically empty. After the holiday, I noticed that Gowalla is more popular in Benalmadena area. Also Dopplr were quite empty, although I decided to add few hints there after the trip.
  • When you are travelling battery consumption is really an issue. Luckily I had my Nokia DC-11 which gave the external push for phone's battery when needed. It would be really useful if one could define which features will be left on when battery is about to die, I mean now some Nokia devices have power saving option which dims the screen light, but it could be used for example shutting down Bluetooth, WiFi discovery, unused open applications, etc. and reserve the rest of the battery for the most important, e.g. sometimes for Ovi Maps.
So, here is my verdict: it is a pleasure to travel with N96 but Ovi Maps can cause you to lose your mind. What do you think? What kinds of experiences you've had with your personal travel assistant?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What will happen to Windows Phone 7 Series?

I've attended to two seminars where Microsoft representative, Vesku Paananen, has been telling about forthcoming Windows Phone 7 Series. Here is one of the videos available in Youtube, what is your first impression?

More videos are available here.

I thought to list some of my ideas about the forthcoming devices. Let's see if these will change after we've gotten more information, after all there are lots of things Microsoft hasn't told yet.

Windows Phone 7 will make it because
  • Common hardware. MS has given tight specs for manufacturers and this means that each phone needs to have certain features, e.g. 3 hardware buttons (Back, Menu and Search), GPS, camera, Compass, ... This means that updating OS will be much easier, just like in iPhone and development will be easier when developers know which features will be available.
  • Top hardware, at the moment. WP7 has really good processor, display etc. for now.
  • Lots of Windows users in the world.
  • Totally new user interface and user experience approach.
  • Microsoft shredded Windows Mobile 6.x and started from scratch. This means that applications need at least to be recompiled but on the other hand, they don't have the historical burden with them.
Windows Phone 7 Series will break it, because
  • They are too late, other OSs have already conquered the world.
  • Phone manufacturers are not interested of Windows Phone 7 because it costs, other OSs are usually free.
  • Developers are not interested of yet another platform and there won't be any software.
Some question marks
  • How well will integrated and situation-depended Bing work?
  • Will new UI work in all countries and with all languages?
  • How will Windows Mobile 6.x and Windows Phone 7 live together?
  • Microsoft aims to start with consumers, what will happen to business users?
  • How well will Windows Marketplace for Mobiles will work?
  • How Microsoft will handle the transition to next version, when hardware specs have changed? After all, hardware components are developing fast.
What do you think? What will happen to Microsoft in mobile space? I'm guessing that they'll strike back, just because they have basically unlimited resources and money if they just want. And mobile is something that everyone is talking nowadays. Why would Microsoft think otherwise? Especially when they've started from almost from scratch with Windows Phone 7 Series.

Microsoft will be telling more about Windows Phone 7 Series at MIX10 on March 15-17 in Las Vegas. If you are interested, you can check some of the sessions live.

(Disclaimer: I was speaking in TechDays 2010 which was organized by Microsoft but above mentioned things are solely my own thoughts.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Direct UI madness

Last September I blogged about Direct UI, Orbit and Qt. I drew my own conclusions based on the information publicly available and said that Direct UI will be a bridge between Maemo and Symbian. I'm sorry to say I was wrong. Not because of actually being wrong but because this is actually pretty bad news.

To make the story short, Qt alone is not enough for modern mobile user interfaces. New UI paradigms require new widgets to be built. Essentially these could be built in Qt to be fully cross-platform but unfortunately we are not there yet. The way Qt handles look and feel on different platforms nowadays is done via Qt styles and there should be nothing preventing creating a style for both S60 and Maemo. After all, Qt works seamlessly on different desktop operating systems already.

The first problem is that there shouldn't really be need for any framework on top of Qt. Having a new layer on top of it not only breaks the compatibility to every system not supporting the new layer but also feels like a totally unnecessary layer on top of Qt.

The second and the more severe problem is that somewhere in the middle of process of creating this new layer the paths between S60 and Maemo got separated. This shows that building products is more important to Nokia than getting a decent development platform together. Breaking the compatibility to every other platform but S60 and Maemo I could have somehow accepted even though I wouldn't have liked it. However, not taking the full advantage of Qt between S60 and Maemo seems just extremely stupid and shortsighted.

You'll still be able to create plain Qt applications that work between platforms but you won't be able to take advantage of all the widgets available on the platforms. At least not until (if it will ever happen) Qt actually provides the same functionality.

I stand corrected and remain somewhat disappointed.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

What if Nokia would offer an aggregate service which would combine all tracking services?

I've mentioned multiple times that popular SportsTracker will be introduced way or another in near future. I started thinking what if it would contain a feature which would allow users upload their information from other tracking services also?

I strongly believe that different tracking services will become more and more popular. I've been using SportsTracker for quite some time and report most of my sport activities. It is convinient, if you go jogging, you just carry your phone and it shows distance, your route etc. If you go to play football, you can report the time and date. Phone is always with you, so you don't need to log-in to computer to report these things. If you are using some heart rate monitoring, e.g. from Polar, you could upload this information after you've sent it to Polar's Personal Trainer.

You can ask why would users want to use SportsTracker if they are using Runkeeper on their iPhone? My answer is "their friends". It is common situation that I'm using SportsTracker, some of my friends are using Runkeeper, and some are using Polar's Personal Trainer etc. If there would be an easy way for aggregating this information, I bet that kind of service would have lots of users.

Now you ask why Nokia would do something like that? My answer is "to sell more phones and make profit". If an iPhone user is using already Nokia's popular service, he might choose Nokia phone next time. Services are, after all, one of the main focus area for Nokia.

There is a Finnish start-up called Heiaheia, which tries to aggregate different activities, but does this manually. I mean user needs to login, type his/her activity to service etc. This manual part is quite cumbersome and I keep wondering why would I type these things because they are already in my phone, device, or other service.

This kind of service doesn't need to focused on tracking sports, but it can be used for tracking your everyday life. You could track your holiday route, take pictures and it would be straight-away available for your friends. If you have old parents, you could see where they are at or where they are going. Of course there are lots of security and other issues, but I believe they could be handled.

What do you think, would this kind of service be a hit?

A follow-up of Ovi Maps vs. Google Maps

I compared Ovi Maps and Google Maps in my last blogpost. I thought give a follow-up regarding it because I borrowed Nokia N97 from my colleague and installed the newest version of Ovi Maps (v3.03 10wk01).

It seems that I was right and basically there isn't any difference between Ovi Maps v3.01 and v3.03 regarding the search results. The only difference was in searching R-Kioski. v3.03 showed only one result when there are almost 30 in Espoo area, v3.01 didn't find anything.

Picture 1. Ovi Maps v3.03 found only one R-Kioski.

Although search results aren't impressive, Nokia managed to improve usability; at least little bit with only one search option which means you can search companies or addresses same time.

Picture 2. Ovi Maps v3.03 improved home screen.

Picture 3. You can now search businesses and addresses using same search.

Nokia has added some sociality to new Ovi Maps, you can share your location to Facebook where it is shown as a normal status update as well a zoomable map.

Picture 4. Facebook status update using Ovi Maps.

Picture 5. Ovi Maps application in Facebook shows your location.

Nokia has also introduced some advertising to the new version, you can see your nearest McDonald's and their ads. These are only shown in Weather and Events categories, not in Lonely Planet and Michelin.

Picture 6. Weather category shows some ads as well as the nearest McD. "Hae lähin McDonald's" means "Search for nearest McDonald's"

Picture 7. You can get weather forecasts from Ovi Maps.

Picture 8. Clicking ad in picture 6 takes you to the landing page and shows more information. Here you can see an ad regarding 1€ cheeseburger.

Picture 9. You can see your nearest McDonald's on map, call there or check their webpage.

Like I mentioned in my previous blogpost, location-based advertising is one of main things in 2010. It seems that all major players are involved in this, e.g. Mashable reported that Apple had said to it's developers that they shouldn't use location-based ads. It indicates that they are planning something by themselves. Mashable also reported that Google Maps is suggesting places you might like.

In my opinion you can see hints that Nokia is soon introducing SportsTracker features to Ovi Maps. When you are travelling somewhere, you can see dashboard regarding the trip.

Picture 10. Dashboard in Ovi Maps which hints that soon SportsTracker features are included to Ovi Maps.

All in all, Ovi Maps v3.03 doesn't include that many new and useful features compared to v3.01. The biggest difference is the free navigation. Time will show how well Nokia can monetize Ovi Maps and it's features.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ovi Maps vs. Google Maps

It's been a while since last blog post, or actually even longer than a while. I could give a blog post full of reasons, but I'm not. After all, when we started this blog, we agreed that we write stories that are interesting for us and if we have time.

Now to the real topic: Ovi Maps versus Google Maps. Like you probably know, Nokia announced some time ago that they are offering navigation for free starting right now with limited number of devices. They also promised that they will add the support to some older models as well as to all new phones shipping with Ovi Maps. Google is already offering free navigation to Android phones, and bunch of different location-based services to other phones.

I must agree with most of the people and say this is an interesting decision from Nokia. I'm guessing that they are trying to get some profit from in-device advertising as well as increased phone sales. In-device advertising is a challenge for both Nokia and Google and we (or at least I) haven't seen any good results from this. One could say the winner of this battle is the one who gets more users to the service and offers better search results. Good search results are vital part of the Ovi/Google Maps usage, because why to use a service, even for a navigation, if it doesn't find anything? This gave me an idea of comparing these two map products. I've been using both of them, so in the following tests, I'm re-creating some of my recent searches .

Test equipment:
  • Nokia N96 (v30.333)
  • Ovi Maps (v3.01 09wk44) (Not the newest version, v3.03, because it is not available for N96 but I'm assuming that both versions are using the same data.)
  • Google Maps (v3.3.1 (#0))
  • Location: Espoo, Finland. Near Helsinki (and Nokia HQ)
Test cases:
  • R-Kioski (a popular kiosk)
  • Apteekki (pharmacy)
  • Nordea (a bank)
  • Otto (a brand name for ATMs)
  • K-Rauta (a hardware store)
  • Rautia (another hardware store)
  • Bauhaus (another hardware store)
  • 1 point from a good result.
  • ½ point from a result that could be improved.
  • 0 points if there are no results.
1. Search - R-kioski

Picture 1. Ovi Maps doesn't recognize "r-kioski".

Picture 2. Google Maps shows the nearest R-Kioski.

Picture 3. You can all search results a list, nearest place is on top.

Picture 4. Google Maps, you can see search results also in the map.

Result: Ovi Maps 0 - Google Maps 1.
It is really disappointing if you cannot find anything.

2. Search: Apteekki

Picture 5. Ovi Maps knows how to suggest search results.

Picture 6. Ovi Maps lists nearest results and also shows them in map (picture missing)

Picture 7. Ovi Maps shows coordinates, phone number and even weather of a search result. Phone number being one to most important.

Picture 8. For some reason Google Maps doesn't show the nearest pharmacies.

Result: Ovi Maps 1 - Google Maps ½. You shouldn't need to choose the nearest place by yourself, especially if you are in unfamiliar place.

3. Search: Nordea

Picture 9. Ovi Maps doesn't find a single Nordea from Finland, only ATMs in Estonia

Picture 10. Google Maps finds some Nordea's but not all, there are also places that doesn't have branches, only offices.

Picture 11. Nordea's listed. Results could be better.

Result: Ovi Maps 0 - Google Maps ½. Really poor results from Ovi Maps, but Google Maps could also improve.

4. Search: Otto

Picture 12. Ovi Maps suggesting results, actually nice and convenient.
Picture 13. Ovi Maps shows search results in map, just like described in picture 6.

Picture 14. Poor results from Google Maps, not even one real hit and others are totally wrong.

Result: Ovi Maps 1 - Google Maps 0. Totally wrong results give bad impression.

5. Search: K-Rauta

Picture 15. Ovi Maps doesn't find anything and suggest wrongly.

Picture 16. Also Google Maps shows phone number.

Picture 17. Google Maps shows sometimes also result's homepage.

Result: Ovi Maps 0 - Google Maps 1. Totally wrong results give bad impression.

6. Search: Rautia

Picture 18. No results when searching Rautia with Ovi Maps.

Picture 19. Google Maps finds "Rautia", but most probably doesn't show the nearest first.

Result: Ovi Maps 0 - Google Maps 1. No results, no points.

7. Search: Bauhaus

Picture 20. Ovi Maps suggest that I should head to Germany...

Picture 21. Google Maps shows reviews in some results.

Result: Ovi Maps 0 - Google Maps 1. Totally wrong results, no points.

Final result: Ovi Maps 2 - Google Maps 5. These result show that Google Maps is better in finding places, which makes sense because Google is so big in search area. This also indicates that Nokia needs to improve it's company database, because companies are usually searched; address, phonenumber, etc. I still keep on using both of them because in some cases Ovi Maps gives better results.

There are lots of areas that makes a difference when these two companies are fighting for the users and their money. Just to name few, these are:
  • Sociality. Social services are also important in search business, because users want to see where their friends are and if they are suggesting some places. Google Maps has Latitude which shows where your friends are, but that's it. New version of Ovi Maps has Facebook-integration which seems interesting, but there needs to be more to come.
  • Tracking. Nokia terminated it's successful Nokia Sportstracker but most probably will add similar features to Ovi Maps, or at least I hope so. Tracking is important for users who are exercising and how they are developing.
  • Sharing data between computer and mobile phone. Most of the users are using Ovi Maps and Google Maps both with their computers and their mobile phones. This is why it important that one can store information using computer and then access the same information with mobile phone. Both companies are supporting this method, as long as you've signed in.
  • Usability and ability to suggest results. Usability is really important in each service, also in Maps. If you are searching something based on the address, Ovi Maps suggests nicely different street addresses.
Picture 22. In Ovi Maps, you need to decide if you are searhing based on address or place.

Picture 23. Google Maps offers only one Search-possibility which makes searching sometimes easier.

Picture 24. Suggestion works nicely in with Google Maps, but it doesn't suggest street names, only recent searches and some commonly known places, e.g. kensington.
  • Downloading maps. When you have your maps in your device, usage can be little faster but the data can be old which results as a poor results. Downloading maps beforehand to your device means that you don't need data connection which means your battery last longer. I hope Nokia would introduce a feature which allows downloading maps to your phone without Map Loader.
So there are lots of open questions who will be the winner in in-device advertising, but one thing is for sure; year 2010 will be interesting year in location-based services.